How To Ace The Top 7 Most Common Interview Questions

Originally Published in ForbesAshley Stahl

I always tell my clients that they should be prepared to answer all sorts of different questions during a job interview. After all, employers are known for throwing in curveball questions to catch prospective employees off guard and gauge how they react. Do you know what you would say if someone interviewing you asked, “What sort of animal would you be?” or “Design a spice rack for the blind,” or “What would you do if you found a penguin in the freezer?”

Probably not.

But fortunately for you, employers tend to stick to the basics when it comes to interviewing candidates. Here are seven of the most common interview questions and how to ace them.

1. “Tell me about yourself.”

This is the notoriously vague question you’ll get in some form or fashion on your next job interview. This question is one of the many reasons that I insist all of my clients have an elevator pitch prepared—a two to three minute introduction that highlights your experience and ends with a goal statement that clearly indicates the position and field you’re in the market for. An elevator pitch will not only help you during network events and other professional interactions, it’s the ideal way to attack this question.

2. “Why are you leaving your current position?”

Best to tackle this one by being as honest and quick as possible without being negative about your current employer (side note: don’t be negative about any employer). Don’t over explain. The goal is to quickly share what you learned, what was missing for you (without descending into negativity), and why you’re excited to get that need or skill set met in your next role. If you mention that you are making a shift in your career or pursuing different challenges, be specific about what those changes are and how the role you’re interviewing for will fulfill that.

3. “What type of salary are you looking for?”

First off, never walk into an interview without a strategy to talk compensation. Before you’re in an interview, research the salaries of employees in your industry who hold positions similar to yours. Come up with a salary range that you’re looking for, but never be the first to say a number. The first person to give a number always loses. If they press you, insist that you’re flexible and more interested in finding the right fit. Last resort, if they still won’t give a number first, tell them the range you’re looking for, but that you’re negotiable.

4. “Why are you interested in this job/working for this company?”

Be prepared to give specific answers about why you want this job and why you think you’ll be good at it. Research the organization ahead of time and discuss something about the company that requires more than just a 10 minute Google search to find out. Brownie points if you can share some ideas that you’d bring into the role — if they’re open to hearing them. Focus on the actual work you’ll be doing and not on other factors like benefits or salary or work schedule.

5. “Tell me your greatest strength.”

This is your big chance to brag, so take it by the reins. Pick a skill that is relevant to the job you’re interviewing for based upon the research you’ve done. Emphasize how you used that skill to succeed in your current or former role, and try to share that gift through the words of someone else. For example, did your last boss tell you that you’re great with details? It’s more powerful to share your gifts through the words of others. Describe how you plan to use that skill in the role you’re interviewing for if given the chance.

6. “Tell me your greatest weakness.”

This one can be tough if you’re caught off guard, but if you plan ahead, it’s a breeze. Pick a weakness you’ve been working on. Tell the interviewer how it has challenged you in the past, and explain to them steps that you have taken to improve this weakness. Lastly, give them a specific example of how you have improved this weakness by actively working on it.

7. “Do you have any questions for us?”

Never, never, never say no! The interviewer wants someone who seems interested and engaged, so go into the interview a handful of insightful questions that you’ve thought of ahead of time. The interviewer is likely to answer at least some of your questions during the interview, so having a few prepared ahead of time will mean you’ll likely have at least one that you can still ask. An incredible question to always ask is: what does success look like in this role?

Job interviews can be the most stressful part of job searching, as they are high-stakes interactions. The slightest trip-up can kill your chances at a job you may be perfect for. But with the right about of planning and preparation, you’ll have no doubt that you’re prepared for the challenge and ready for anything.

Well, anything, but hopefully not a penguin in a freezer.

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